Alibi V.27 No.24 • June 14-20, 2018 

New Mexico News

Playing With Fire

Forest closures, fireworks bans and a very hot planet

The Sandia Mountains in winter
The Sandia Mountains in winter
courtesy USDA

When summertime comes to New Mexico, the outdoors beckon. Our abundant natural resources, managed by state and federal agencies, offer recreation opportunities from hiking, hunting and fishing to scuba diving, spelunking and amateur entomological and archeological expeditions. Taking all this natural grandeur into account rescues the term “land of enchantment” from the universe of cliches, depositing the product coolly and conveniently on our front doorstep.

That was until the drought continued to wreak havoc across the state. This week, following similar moves en el norte, most of the Cibola National Forest was scheduled to be closed until further notice―read: until it rains around here, substantively and continuously for a couple of days, at least. In the meantime, a slightly rainier Colorado, legal cannabis and all, is just a four hour drive away. Forget Arizona, Tejas or Mexico, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk in those places.

Subsequently, the Bernalillo County commission will meet tonight, June 12, to discuss a ban on the use of fireworks this summer. As the two two traditions―outdoorsy, emblazoned by sparks, smoke-branded democracy―fall away, it’s important to note the details of such changes in our shared lifestyle, out here in the high desert. There may occasionally be some comment on the environmental and scientific aspects of such changes; this is being written as the sound of the teletype fills the background. Or something like that.

Forests and Grasslands Closed

The latest press release from the ranger team over at the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands does not bode well for a summertime to be spent in the midst of our state’s natural beauty. The closure will officially go into effect on Friday, June 15. It affects the entirety of the district, except for Foothills Trail 365. That means humans and their wide-ranging and complex recreational activities are prohibited from entry, until further notice (see above).

This spring’s lack of rain, as well as a very disappointing amount of winter precipitation and subsequent snow pack, has left the state parched. Four months ago, NM Political Report environmental reporter Laura Paskus reported in-depth on the environmental crisis that the record-low snowpack in the mountains of New Mexico portended, and it really hasn’t rained much since her story dropped. I am pretty sure it’s only rained a couple or three times since then.

More Heat, Less Water

Survivability of biological organisms, short-term and long-term, comes into question as our environment becomes hotter and drier. In May, the New York Times sent a correspondent down to the farming village of Lemitarmi padrino, a dude named Crespin, had a farm thereabouts—to report on the growing problem.

Reporter Henry Fountain writes that our state’s snowpack for the winter ending in 2018 was the second lowest on record. Further, he notes that the spring runoff this year was one-sixth, or just about 17 percent of what is considered normative or average. Add to that documentation that shows summertime temperatures in the state have risen two points in the past century—with some forecasters predicting continued gains—and survivability becomes less and less an abstract place from which to envision our state’s future.

As Paskus writes and Fountain intimates, this isn’t breaking news; the growing heat and lack of precipitation have been forces that have been stalking the inhabitants of this state for at least 20 years in my reckoning. Paskus in particular notes a paper published by UNM professor David Gutzler about rising temperature trends in central New Mexico. That paper predicts that soon, one day, Burque’s climate will mirror that of what El Paso in Tejas has now. Imagine the Sandias are just like the mountains in El Paso, big rocks without conifers or aspens. That’s where we could be headed mijos y mijas.

Global Warming and Fossil Fuels

Scientific, computer-generated models demonstrate that human activities, especially the continued use of fossil fuels, are significant contributors to rise in temperatures and subsequent disturbance of the environment that makes human civilization possible. Continuing to argue that point in the face of the conditions now being faced by citizens of this city, this state, the nation and our little globe seems pointless and quaint.

Tangible Results

Somewhere, sometime, some quack or wingnut or charlatan said that there would never be any sort of revolution in America—either armed or Fabian—without there first being a supreme disruption of something citizens felt to be an intrinsic disruption of their Declaration of Independence foretold and promised daily lives.

Well, then I guess we will start with fireworks. The fire danger, a thing directly traceable to global warming, folks, may prevent local residents in indulging in a symbolic activity that some consider duty-bound to get wrapped up in. That’s cool.

A glance through similar, previously enacted ordinances of this sort reveals that they can encompass various human activities. Some have banned the sale of fireworks outright. Other times, city and county leaders have acted to ban home use by amateur fire wizards. Sometimes councilors have gone all the way, even stopping professional commericial displays from going off at another American sacred cow ritual: the big Fourth of July sportsball game.

Whether such obviously freedom-occluding measures actually mean something to a populace that has half-embraced a reality show huckster as president while continuing to deny the realities confronting them daily is a particularly curious yet cruel outcome for many in the progressive camp. The future will tell if privation equals awareness or whether that idea goes to seed as well, bearing the burnt fruit of our uncautious misteps as it passes through Earth.